000⁰ 00' LATITUDE – Twenty nine years is an impressive amount of time in service of the United States Navy. It is even more impressive that Capt. Robert D. Jackson, a native of Kalamazoo, Mich., has gone that entire time without being sworn in to the Ancient Order of the Deep…that changed Nov. 18, aboard the soon-to-be decommissioned amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (LHA 5).
Capt. Jackson is an anesthesiologist, embarked on Peleliu as Officer in Charge of the Fleet Surgical Team for Amphibious Force Seventh Fleet. He began his career via the Aviation Officer Candidate School, commissioned as an Ensign in 1985. His career path led him to many successes, including Naval Flight Officer training in Pensecola, Fla., earning his wings during Advanced Navigation training at the former Mather Air Force Base, and several command designations as part of the P-3C Orion Patrol Squadron Nine at Moffet Field, Calif.
“If you had told me as an Ensign that it was going to take this long to become one of King Neptune’s ‘fit subjects,’ I would have laughed in disbelief,” said Jackson. “But I grew anxious as each set of orders, including a career shift, delayed my inevitable encounter with the Ruler of the Raging Main.”
The accomplishments continued when Capt. Jackson was selected to attend the F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, graduating in 1998. He completed his residency in anesthesiology at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D. C. He went on to serve as staff anesthesiologist and numerous leadership positions during his tours of duty at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa, Japan and Naval Hospital Jacksonville, Fla. But none of his achievements brought him any closer to “crossing the line” and shedding his slimy title of “pollywog.”
“The crossing the line ceremony is a time-honored nautical tradition,” said Jackson. “To maintain order among his royal subjects of the deep, King Neptune and his Royal Court board the ship as it crosses the equator.”
Pollywogs are those who have not previously crossed the equator, thus having never paid proper respects to King Neptune. For their unruly offenses, they are summoned to appear before the Royal Court for trial and sentencing.
In preparation for King Neptune’s arrival aboard Peleliu, pollywogs passed through a series of mental and physical challenges in an effort to prove they are worthy of becoming trusty “shellbacks.” Shellbacks are those who have previously crossed the equator, already loyal to King Neptune. When the challenges were complete and it was time to appear before the Royal Court, Capt. Jackson was more than ready.
“Capt. Jackson was the longest serving pollywog on the ship,” said Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Brandon Pea. “To us, that made him king of the ‘wogs’ and watching the two kings finally meet was like having the planets align. I don’t think I could have lasted 29 years as a pollywog.”
At long last, Capt. Jackson stood before King Neptune and his Royal Court. He was found worthy, along with 886 fellow pollywogs aboard Peleliu, to be numbered as one of King Neptune’s trusty shellbacks, gathered into the fold and duly initiated into the solemn mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep.
“I am very grateful for this experience and proud to finally be a shellback,” said Jackson. “It was a long time coming and I am proud to have shared in this tradition with such remarkable Sailors and Marines. Peleliu did an outstanding job reflecting the core values of the Navy, ensuring the ceremony was safe, professional, supportive and fun!”
King Neptune and members of his Royal Court were unavailable for comment. They promptly departed the ship following the ceremony, having restored order to the Royal Domain.